Results of the plan. First some additional observations.
Almost all the players selected were team captains, so leadership garnered points for each player in the ranking system the Lions are now using. That doesn’t mean a player has to have been a team captain to get drafted, it just means when ranking players it didn’t hurt their status any. It also means a non-captain had other qualities that increased his desirability to the Lions.
Second, when addressing needs the Lions weren’t just looking at starters. No one truly expects round 4 or later picks to be starters until a couple years later, if ever. However, backup slots are needs too, and if the current backup on the team hasn’t shown the promise to eventually become a starter then getting replaced by a later round draft pick who eventually might be able to become a starter is a distinct possibility.
Third, playing special teams is nearly a requirement for a backup to make the team. It’s very difficult to hold your roster spot if you are not a starter and also don’t play special teams. Thus potential draft picks in the later rounds got extra credit for special teams play. There is no sense drafting a guy after round 3 if he’s not going to be able to help special teams as he is then unlikely to be able to make the roster anyway.
I do not believe the Lions have used these 3 “methods” in the past.
Some notes on players that were not selected… we all know what “red flags” are as it pertains to draft picks. Drug use. Lingering injuries that never seem to heal. Mental issues of one kind or another. But I believe the Lions also now downgrade (in their ranking system) players that don’t fit their definition of body type for the position. For example, a 300 pound DT was going to get points taken away while a 330 pounder wouldn’t. A fast LB at 235 plus pounds is going to get more points then a faster LB at 220. In other words, the ranking allowed for preferred body types for each position. In addition to that, players who help the run game (or help stop the run game) got perhaps some small advantage over players who do not. That’s not to say a player HAD to have these traits. Just that where they ranked might be affected. To end up at the top of the Lions draft board at any particular slot would require an exceptional player with some fantastic traits… good enough to keep them up above the rest of the remaining hopeful draft picks that maybe CAN do special teams, or has the better weight, or is a team captain, whatever.
Now for the picks themselves, what do I think of them, and how will they fit with the Lions roster?
1a. Matt Stafford. His contract could’ve easily been higher, and it would seem it also could’ve been less. Since it’s (in my opinion) somewhere in between I’m just going to leave this part alone. #1 draft picks get paid way too much (as do all the top 7 actually) and until they fix that there is no point complaining about his contract. I’m not going to do an in-depth analysis of this (or any other) pick, dissecting every play, every throw and foot placement, etc. The summarized version of it is this… when Matt’s on, he is a terrific quarterback. When he’s a bit off, he has a really bad day. It will be up to the coaches to work on his mechanics so that he has something to fall back on when things go haywire… something to get him back to comfortable… much as was saw in the 2nd half of the bowl game against MSU last January. There is a chance that he could actually become a franchise QB. Something most of us Lions fans who are alive now have never seen (sorry old timers). Not saying he will, or should, only that there is a chance (yeah, I know, “so you’re saying there’s a chance”).
Then look at all the intangibles. Not his intangibles, but these ones… it’s been 50 years (going on 51) since the Bobby Layne 50 year curse was laid upon the organization. Not months after the curse being over the Lions draft a QB who went to the same high school as Bobby Layne. Matt’s first name is really John. The last QB the Lions drafted in round 1 also had a first name he didn’t use of John. M-a-t-t Millen was fired before M-a-t-t Stafford was drafted. Then of course there’s the last name, the last four letters being f-o-r-d. Doesn’t it just feel right? No? Well, at least know this, Schwartz, Mayhew, Lewand and the rest of the Lions front office and coaching staff have pretty much laid their futures on Stafford’s shoulders… if he doesn’t turn out they will likely not last the fallout in a few years. Do these individuals not strike you as the types that would try their very best to keep the odds on their side? They strike me that way. Stafford may not start the season, but if Culpepper struggles, or in blow out games (in either direction) you may see Stafford get playing time. If Culpepper plays in top form then you may have to wait a long time before seeing Stafford this year.
1b. Brandon Pettigrew TE. The best tight end in the draft, an old school type who can block and block well, as well as catch. The Lions haven’t really had a quality TE that stayed healthy enough to help the team in any one season in nearly 2 decades. Like QB, many of us fans have forgotten what a truly good TE can do for your team. The run game, the passing game, the ability to help a lineman who is struggling, and the best friend of any young QB. There were 236 other players drafted after Pettigrew, and perhaps some of them will be better in the NFL then him, but for a team who does not have a quality TE you can hardly go wrong getting one of the best available. I do not foresee Brandon having any trouble adjusting to the NFL and of the top notch TE’s currently in the league, he might just have one of the better personalities. There was a reason the Lions had him ranked this high, higher then those other 236 guys, and I figure it won’t take us all long to see what it was come this season.
2. Louis Delmas, Safety. This guy hits hard. Remember the player who hit Keyshawn a few years ago? You do? Why? Because it was a devastating hit, right? That was one hit… in what… years? Now picture a few of those every single game! It’ll be contagious. The other players will play harder, they’ll be juiced up. This pick (ignore who else was there instead) is going to entertain us… and make the opponents hear things (that are really there).
3a. DeAndre Levy. A future Arizona Cardinal… until the Lions foiled their plans. I’ll throw out a link to some info on the guy, nothing much, just some numbers. http://www.profootballtalk.com/2009/04/06/wisconsins-levy-runs-a-450/ He’s big but not huge and can get bigger. He’s fast. He’s able to hit with authority. In fact, I believe he’s the same exact size as Foote, a potential free agent LB Steeler who actually wants to be a Lion. I am moderately certain the Lions planned on starting Levy at MLB this year from game 1. However, if Foote does become a Lion the young man will have a year or two to learn from a vet. I don’t have a problem with either plan myself. No offense to Paris Lenon. By the way, his jersey is available for sale at the Detroit Lions Store (the other 3rd round pick’s is not).
3b. Derrick Williams WR/KR. Say hello to our new return guy. We may see him on the field even more if he can win the slot receiver spot. If I got my gut feelings right, the Lions got 4 guys with the first 4 picks that will be seeing the field and helping the team out a lot for the next 6 years before they hopefully all warrant and get contract extensions.
4. Sammie Lee Hill DT. 6’4” 329 pounds. I don’t think the Lions were going to draft a DT smaller then this guy. He’s not quite ready to take the starters job away from the vets, but he will make the team and rotate in while he learns. He does have a lot to learn though, and assuming he does this “little” project has the potential to be every bit as good as a former DT that the Lions traded away recently, without the attitude. Dare I say it? The Lions may have finally got a 4th round pick that will actually contribute to the team… for the first time in what, 3 decades? Something like that.
6. Aaron Brown RB/KR. Assuming this guy can do it, he’ll be replacing two “vets”. If he can be a 3rd down RB and be either the backup return guy or if they split the return duties for kicking and punting, then Calhoun and Cason are both goners. Kevin Smith, Maurice Morris, and Aaron Brown should hog the 3 half back roster spots. It doesn’t hurt to have two returners on the team either, for depth in case of injury. Plus, if something were to happen, Cason always seems to be available to re-sign for some reason.
7a. Lydon Murtha T. 6’7” 306 lbs. I think Lydon’s task is to beat George Foster out of the backup offensive tackle job. It is likely to be his only chance to make the team and not the practice squad.
7b. Zack Follett LB 6’2” 236 lbs. Zack it the exact same height and weight as Levy (believe it or not). Zack’s task is to beat Graham and Spencer out of a backup LB job. I suspect the man has it in him to do just that. The linebackers will eventually be expected to be able to play more then one LB position, so it doesn’t really matter which backup position he obtains, he just needs to get past the vets to earn a roster spot. His special team play might be enough to do just that, as long as his LB play isn’t too far off the mark. He already has a fan base in Detroit, so it should be interesting watching the young man battle. And it will be a battle.
7c. Dan Gronkowski TE. 6’6” 255 lbs. One of those “too good to pass up” picks. They already got Pettigrew so they didn’t “need” another TE, except that isn’t true. A team keeps more then one TE, a 7th round pick isn’t likely to earn a starting job, and upgrading backups who have shown they are unlikely to ever be starters is just as important as drafting starters in the early rounds. So Dan needs to take Fitzsimmons job away, simple as that. He has one thing going for him already, his cap hit will be a 1/6th of what Fitzsimmons is. If he doesn’t take the job, that means that Fitz is playing healthy and well, and there is nothing wrong with that either.
There are 9 undrafted rookies who were also signed by the Lions. I’m rooting for a hard working LB named Holtzclaw to make the team… if he can impress despite his “short arms” he may have a chance, after all, LB is the one position on this team that before the draft had only 2 sure fire keepers on it, that leaves room for up to 5 new faces. The returning players should all be ready for a duel, and that includes the vets signed during free agency too.
That’s not to say the other undrafted guys don’t have a chance, I’m just not as familiar with them as I am with the guy that so many Chiefs’ fans had hoped would be on their team.
On my Lions page I have a link to my estimated depth chart for 2009. I’ve had it there all off-season but I’m about to add a page to the front of it that includes the results from the draft. It’s only a guess, some mental projections if you will, and subject to change as matters develop, but by the middle of August I will once again try to top my best estimate of year’s past, of 5 wrong (based on the final 53 man roster).